MOMENCE – Momence scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes, but came up two yards short on a two-point conversion that could have won a Class 2A quarterfinal against Three Rivers North champ Sterling Newman.
After recovering one last onside kick, the Comets (11-1) ran out the clock and celebrated a 34-33 win on the road that earns them a semifinal game at home for the second straight season.
“It was pretty scary there at the end,” sophomore Brady Rude said, “but we held on and we’re moving on, so that’s all that matters.”
Newman dictated the game for the majority of the first 44½ minutes, dominating the time of possession and the line of scrimmage. The Comets held the ball for 32:37 compared to Momence’s 15:23, and rushed 65 times for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
But the final 3:30 belonged to Momence (8-4), who knocked out Hall, 21-7, a week ago.
Trailing 34-20, the Redskins completely abandoned the run, instead putting the game on the shoulders – and right arm – of 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Aaron Cantwell. He completed seven of 12 passes for 110 yards and two TDs.
The Redskins covered the 80 yards in eight plays and 1:47, with the final 30 coming on Cantwell’s scoring strike to Tre Spears with 1:43 to play.
After kicking the extra point to cut the deficit to seven points, Jon Salazar then booted a beautiful onside kick that took a nasty bounce at just the right time, and Gino Wendes ended up cradling the ball at the bottom of the pile at the Newman 42-yard line with 1:42 remaining.
The Redskins again cashed in quickly, covering the 42 yards in five plays. Cantwell again hit Spears for a TD, this time from 15 yards out, to bring Momence to within one.
The Redskins then burned their final timeout to make the most crucial decision of the game.
“As a coaching staff, after the second-to-last score, we talked and said we’d better figure out our best two-point play,” coach Matt Fox said, “because we hoped we’d need it.”
With the game on the line, Cantwell sprinted out to his right and connected with Jesse Fulwiley at the 2-yard line. But Newman’s defenders swarmed the play, and Rude and Michael Ely smacked Fulwiley to the ground short of the goal line to preserve the win.
“That was great team defense,” Ely said. “Brady did a great job of stringing out the play so I was able to come up and help him. Together, we were able to make the tackle.”
“I made the wrong read; I should have waited and looked into the end zone for an open receiver,” said Cantwell. “We should’ve won that game, if I make a better decision at the end.”
After the dust settled and the Redskins shared tears and hugs, Momence coach Matt Fox defended the decision to go for two, though nobody was vehemently opposed to it; Cantwell said the whole team was lobbying for it, anyway.
“We had the momentum, and we felt it was our best opportunity to win the game,” Fox said. “Overtime gives you the ball at the 10-yard line, where the field is condensed, and our offense isn’t really equipped for that … at least, not against their defense. Newman’s offense is built for that, and we’d had trouble stopping them. If I had to do it over again, I’d do the exact same thing; credit them for making a great defensive play.”
The Comets racked up 27 first downs to Momence’s 14, and limited the Redskins to 67 yards rushing, though they basically abandoned the ground game after Newman’s 16-play, 90-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter took 8:25 off the clock and gave the Comets a 28-13 lead.